The Wines Of Rías Baixas And Food Pairing

  • By Jeff Harding
  • 19 Dec 2020
  • 5 MIN
  • Level 101
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Wine with mussels - Credit : Rias Baixas

Green Spain. Sounds pretty great, huh? That’s what they call Galicia, the region of northwestern Spain surrounding Rías Baixas. It really sums up the verdant lush landscape that is the result of twice the rainfall of Seattle, but match that with plenty of sunshine and you find a landscape that produces wines that reflect their home: lush, ripe, abundant in flavour, fresh, and alive. 

The region is also defined by its coastline. Rivers run to meet the sea in estuaries or fjords called Rías, and with Baixas meaning low, we have the lower Rías. The fresh river water meeting the salty seawater results in a shoreline abundant with marine life.

The Perfect Match : Albariño And Seafood

Which brings us to the first great classic pairing with Albariño from Rías Baixas: seafood. I’m always reminded of the term fruits de mer (fruits of the sea) pairing it with a wine that can bring out the luscious fruit notes in oysters, mussels, scallops, and clams, complementing the briny flavours. A.J. Ojeda-Pons, most recently of Little Spain NYC, reminded me how heavenly an Albariño can taste with fresh anchovies... hopefully you can find some from Rías Biaxas. 

A.J. explained how the high acid and zippy citrus flavours complement the salty fish on buttered bread, but also refresh the palate after one has consumed the rich fatty butter. “The acid is so high it makes the mouth salivate, inviting you to take another bite of food,” he explains. Another of A.J.’s favourites is to pair it with a potato tortilla, (AKA Spanish omelette). Rich baked eggs and potatoes, with herbs and spices are perfectly balanced with an Albariño from Rías Baixas that will clean and revive the palate.

I asked Diego Rios, the winemaker from Bodegas Granbazan, what he likes to pair with his wines, and he explained how well they work with simply grilled mussels or baked fish cooked with olive oil and sea salt. He likes the clean, straightforward flavours of citrus, pear, apple, and fresh herbs as a counter to tapas or salty flavours from the ocean. Rios also mentioned how he loves pairing these wines with young cheeses that still have some acidity, or to just sip a glass on its own on a hot summer’s day.

A Breadth Of Styles Leads To Varied Pairings

The varied microclimates, terroir, and winemaking techniques of this region make for a diversity of wines styles, which range from racy, bright minerality to more fleshy, rich flavours and textures. Time on lees can add a broader expression of rich and creamy textures and this style of Albariño can be paired with stronger flavours, cream sauces, or spicy foods. The expressive fruit flavours of classic Rías Baixas wine are still there, but more complexity and muscle in the wine allow for more complex pairings of elaborate dishes and sauces.

If you are lucky enough to find an Albariño that has spent some time in oak, Rios recommends pairing it with grilled fish or grilled meat. The smoky and spicy notes from oak add complexity, but the wine is still very fresh. If you’ve never eaten seafood cooked in actual water from the ocean, please put that on your list of things to do, and don’t forget to pair it with a wine from Rías Baixas!

Finally, we have aged Albariño. While we don’t often see a lot of these in the North American market, there are some excellent examples. Wineries in the region are increasingly producing Albariños to age. At a tasting in 2019, I had the opportunity to try a 2001 and 2002, which were most memorable. The wines were paired with charcuterie and it’s probably my favourite of the pairings. The fruitiness of the wine complemented the salt in the preserved meat, but something about the age-on-age umami combo has lodged itself in my brain. I think any Albariño has enough racy fruitiness to be great here, but do keep an eye out for that rare bottle of aged Albariño and I bet it will make the same impression on you. 

Wine with mussels - Credit : Rias Baixas